Last week, the European Commission recommended that Ukraine and Moldova be granted EU candidate status, while Georgia must fulfill a number of conditions before candidate status can even be considered.
At a summit in Brussels on June 23-24, leaders of all 27 EU states will consider all three membership applications. But aside from those possible banner developments, there are other key developments worth watching closely.
Approved Candidate Status For Ukraine, Moldova...But Not Georgia
All indications suggest that EU leaders will approve the recommendations set out by the European Commission last week. That means that both Ukraine and Moldova will get candidate status on the evening of June 23 but must fulfil a number of conditions to advance further on their respective accession paths. Georgia, on the other hand, will first face a number of conditions before the country can even achieve candidate status.
Perhaps, however, the most interesting part in the latest EU summit draft seen by RFE/RL is a sentence related to Ukraine and Moldova that reads: 'The [European] Council will decide on further steps once all these conditions are fully met.' Does that mean that Ukraine and Moldova will be ready to open accession talks once those conditions are met or does it mean that even more conditions will then be imposed before any further steps? This would be the first time the EU has given candidate status but also attached conditions, so Ukraine and Moldova would very much be in unchartered territory.
Likely Disappointment For The Western Balkans Again
While EU leaders will likely take the historic step in indicating that Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia will one day be a part of the bloc, the EU hopefuls in the Western Balkans might be in for another disappointing summit. Leaders from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia are all expected to be in Brussels to meet their EU counterparts on June 23 for a Western Balkans meeting ahead of the larger summit. North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, and Turkey are all official candidates to join the EU, but both Bosnia and Kosovo are only potential candidate countries.
On June 21, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama questioned whether it would even make sense for them to show up if the meeting results in another 'no, sorry,' following similar gatherings where Brussels didn't dish out any goodies. Since then, he has confirmed his presence, although the mood among the aspiring Balkan countries is more than a little downbeat.
There is still a chance that North Macedonia and Bulgaria can patch up their differences ahead of or during the summit so that Skopje, together with Albania, can get a green light to start EU accession negotiations.
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However, Bosnia-Herzegovina will not get candidate status, as the vast majority of EU member states believe it hasn't carried out enough reforms in the last few years, and Kosovo's hopes of finally getting visa liberalization look set to be dashed even though there might be a commitment to kickstart the political process on that front later in the fall.
Macron's New European Political Community
This summit will be heavy on talk of EU enlargement but, make no mistake, the idea of increasing the membership of the club still makes some countries, especially in the western part of the EU, a bit queasy. That is why EU leaders are also set to discuss French President Emmanuel Macron's recent idea of a new European Political Community over dinner on June 23.
The French discussion paper, circulated in Brussels last week, calls for the creation of a new political body with decision-making powers that would meet several times a year at various political levels and would be open to all European states 'that share a common set of democratic values.'
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While Paris has tried hard to explain that this new creation wouldn't be a substitute for EU enlargement, some countries are very wary, fearing that Ukraine and the countries of the Western Balkans would be stuck forever in a sort of EU 'halfway house.' Expect some heated exchange on this one, especially with a French president coming off a real drubbing in parliamentary elections over the weekend who may not be too keen to compromise.
Running Out Of Ideas On Russia
A large chunk of the summit will, understandably, be devoted to Russia's war on Ukraine -- but there is a distinct feeling, both inside and outside of Brussels, that the bloc is running out of new ideas. There will be a call to further increase military support to Kyiv and to grant Ukraine another financial aid package worth up to 9 billion euros ($9.5 billion).
When it comes to the grain stuck in the port of Odesa, due to a Russian naval blockade, many in Brussels are still hoping that the UN secretary-general might be able to solve the issue. And regarding Moscow's vocal threats against Lithuania for blocking Russian goods sanctioned by the EU from entering the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, there are still discussions on whether any written support for Vilnius will make it into the final declaration.
Even on sanctions, the fatigue is apparent in Brussels' corridors of power. After having struggled to adopt the last round of restrictive measures, notably a Russian oil embargo with numerus loopholes, the draft text is rather vague: 'work will continue on sanctions, including to strengthen implementation and prevent circumvention.'
While some countries are pushing for more and deeper sanctions, one EU official who wished to remain anonymous wearily told me that 'we only have gas and nuclear left to target now but considering how hard it was to agree on the oil and looking at the galloping inflation and energy prices, I think we might not be ready for that now.'
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036